Peter Parker

Feasts and flowers

Cedric Morris is often referred to as an artist-plantsman, and while as a breeder of plants, most particularly of irises, he has always been highly regarded in horticultural circles, his reputation as a painter has been subject to regular fluctuations. Last year, two excellent and complementary London exhibitions — Cedric Morris: Artist Plantsman at the

On a wing and a prayer | 27 June 2019

In 1979, despite the best efforts of scientists for more than a century, a butterfly called the British Large Blue became extinct. There is widespread concern about the more recent decline in butterfly populations, but the American ecologist Nick Haddad writes that the collective weight of the known populations of the five rarest butterflies he

Messing about on the river

The title of Matthew Dennison’s new biography of the man who wrote The Wind in the Willows appears to nod to another children’s classic of the Edwardian period. J.M. Barrie subtitled Peter Pan — first staged in 1904, four years before the publication of Kenneth Grahame’s book — ‘The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up’, and

A pearl of great price

Objectivity seems to be difficult for historians writing about Britain’s long and complicated relationship with India, and this makes the even-handedness David Gilmour achieves in books such as The Ruling Caste both unusual and welcome. In his enlightening and wonderfully detailed new portrait of The British in India, he states that he is ‘not seeking

How pleasant to know Mr Lear

Edward Lear liked to tell the story of how he was once sitting in a railway carriage with two women who were reading aloud to children from his Book of Nonsense. When a male passenger confidently asserted that ‘There is no such person as Edward Lear’, the writer was obliged to prove his own existence

Drowning in mud and blood

George Orwell’s suggestion that the British remember only the military disasters of the first world war is certainly being borne out by the centenary commemorations. The focus of each year so far has been Gallipoli, the Somme and now the Third Battle of Ypres, popularly known as Passchendaele. The basic story is familiar. On 31

Undone by love

On the Whitsun weekend of 1935 an art student called Denton Welch was knocked off his bicycle by a car and suffered catastrophic injuries, including a fractured spine. Although he made a remarkable partial recovery, he subsequently endured regular bouts of disabling illness, and would die in 1948 aged only 33. Welch continued to paint

Spectator Books of the Year: The dangers of unrequited love

My novel of the year was What Belongs to You (Picador, £12.99), Garth Greenwell’s slender, poised, clear-eyed and devastating account of the depths to which unrequited sexual obsession can lead you, particularly if you become entangled with a rent-boy in Sofia. I also enjoyed and admired Aravind Adiga’s funny and touching Selection Day (Picador, £16.99), in which cricketing prodigies

In life divided

The ten pallbearers at Thomas Hardy’s funeral in Westminster Abbey on 16 January 1928 included Kipling, Barrie, Housman, Gosse, Galsworthy, Shaw and both the prime minister and leader of the oppposition. This distinguished gathering was not strictly necessary for the job at hand, because Hardy’s coffin merely contained his ashes — all that there was

Broken and mad

In the final months of 1914, medical officers on the Western Front began seeing a new kind of casualty. Soldiers who had no physical injury were displaying a wide range of alarming symptoms. Some appeared to be completely dazed or were shaking uncontrollably, others had lost their sense of taste or smell, or were suffering

Action this day

‘July 1st 1916 was the most interesting day of my life,’ Philip Howe recalled, with characteristic English dryness, half a century after taking part in the most catastrophic 24 hours in the history of the British army. Howe had been a lieutenant in the 10th West Yorkshires, which had the grim distinction of losing more

The other trenches: the Dardanelles, 100 years on

In August 1915, in his tent at GHQ on the Aegean island of Imbros, General Sir Ian Hamilton, commander-in-chief of the Gallipoli expedition, woke from a dream in which someone was attempting to drown him in the Hellespont. ‘For hours afterwards,’ he wrote in his diary, ‘I was haunted by the thought that the Dardanelles

Sophia Duleep Singh: from socialite to socialist

Princess Sophia Alexandrovna Duleep Singh (1876–1948) had a heritage as confusing as her name. Her father was a deposed Indian maharajah who had been exiled to England, her mother the Cairo-born illegitimate daughter of a German merchant and an Abyssinian slave. The young princess was brought up in considerable splendour on a vast Suffolk estate

The long and disgraceful life of Britain’s pre-eminent bounder

In his time, Gerald Hamilton (1890–1970) was an almost legendary figure, but he is now remembered — if at all — as the model for the genial conman in Christopher Isherwood’s novel Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935). ‘There are some incidents in my career, as you doubtless know, which are very easily capable of misinterpretation,’

From Scylax to the Beatles: the West’s lust for India

From the Greek seafarer Scylax in 500 BC to the Beatles in 1968, there is a long history of foreign visitors being drawn to India. Many have come in search of the ‘exotic’ or the ‘other’, an idea of India that persists despite the best efforts of Edward Said’s post-colonial disciples. Not unnaturally, the Indian

A truth too tender for memoir

It has been 14 years since Akhil Sharma published his first, widely acclaimed novel, An Obedient Father. Though its subject matter is very different, Family Life more than fulfils the expectations raised by that grim but compelling story of financial, political and moral corruption in India. Growing up in Delhi in the 1970s, the eight-year-old

Brains with green fingers

‘Life is bristling with thorns,’ Voltaire observed in 1769, ‘and I know no other remedy than to cultivate one’s garden.’ This is the remedy espoused by Candide at the end of Voltaire’s satirical novel, published ten years earlier, and the literal and metaphorical cultivating of gardens is the subject of Damon Young’s sprightly and stimulating

Pine by Laura Mason; Lily, by Marcia Reiss – review

After the success of their animal series of monographs, Reaktion Books have had the clever idea of doing something similar for plants. Writers are commissioned to investigate the botanical, historical, social and cultural aspects of individual plants, with volumes on oak and geranium already published, and yew, bamboo, willow, palm and orchid forthcoming. The structure